Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 37:29-31

29 And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.

30 And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?

31 And they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood;

Reuben’s language to his brothers is very interesting here. It is as if he thinks he is giving them new news. “The child is not!” Does this mean they did not tell him what they had done with Joseph? Was he left to assume that some unknown mischief had taken his brother? Did he never know that his brother had been sent away to Egypt until they met him years later?

I also find interesting his other statement “and I, whither shall I go?” Joseph was the one who had been sold, but Reuben feels lost in this moment as well. As the eldest of all the brethren he might have felt a special responsibility for all of the others, even Joseph. Now that he had failed in that responsibility he had a sense of having misplaced his own self.

And yet, Reuben wasn’t ready to come clean to his father. Rather than tell the man what they had done, Reuben went along with concocting a falsehood about some wild beast killing Joseph. All the brothers had some humbling to go through before they would be ready to own their wrongs.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 37:25-28

25 And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.

26 And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?

27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content.

28 Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

Now it is Judah who changes the plan for Joseph, suggesting that they sell him into slavery rather than leave him to die. The thought occurs to me that, like Reuben, he might have been doing this as a way to save Joseph from his brothers. Unlike with Reuben, we don’t have a verse specifically telling us what his intent is, but it does seem a possibility.

If Judah really was trying to help Joseph, then it is interesting that Joseph’s loss was a combined coincidence of two brothers trying to save him without realizing that that’s what the other one was trying to do as well. If that is the case, it only goes to show that Joseph being sold into Egypt was inevitable, an event that God had dictated to happen, for reasons He only understood at this time.

But if, on the other hand, Judah’s motivation really was “what profit is it if we slay our brother,” then this is a horrible thing. This would mean he was deciding which way we wanted to ruin his younger brother’s life on the basis of what was most beneficial to him personally. And even if this wasn’t Judah’s actual motivation, all of his brothers still agreed to its logic!

Though, then again, who knows? Maybe they agreed to it because they were coming to realize that they didn’t really want to kill their brother and here was an opportunity to somewhat spare him. Wouldn’t it be a fascinating thing if none of the brothers were okay with what was happening, but none of them spoke plainly because they thought they were the only one that felt this way?

Either way, the outcome was the same. Joseph was sold to Egypt because that was where God needed Joseph to go. And he was sold for twenty pieces of silver, which is another parallel to the story of Jesus, who was sold for thirty.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 34:18, 20, 22-24

18 And their words pleased Hamor, and Shechem Hamor’s son.

20 And Hamor and Shechem his son came unto the gate of their city, and communed with the men of their city, saying,

22 Only herein will the men consent unto us for to dwell with us, to be one people, if every male among us be circumcised, as they are circumcised.

23 Shall not their cattle and their substance and every beast of theirs be ours? only let us consent unto them, and they will dwell with us.

24 And unto Hamor and unto Shechem his son hearkened all that went out of the gate of his city; and every male was circumcised, all that went out of the gate of his city.

Shechem and Hamor returned to their city and explained with delight how simple a task the sons of Jacob had delivered them. All they had to do was circumcise themselves, and then they would be able to marry the Israelites’ daughters and siphon their wealth to themselves.

Which is another example of the unworthy motivations in these men. They aren’t talking about this as if it would be a mutual partnership, they aren’t discussing ways that they will be able to support and grow the Israelite community as well, they are solely focused on how they can profit themselves at the others’ expense.

Thus, it is their blind greed that ultimately leads them to their demise. It seems the defining characteristic of these men is that they are so anxious to take advantage of others that they don’t realize when they’re the ones being taken advantage of instead.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 28:6-9

6 When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padan-aram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan;

7 And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padan-aram;

8 And Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father;

9 Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife.

Esau witnessed the blessing and charge that Isaac gave to Jacob, and he realized how his own marriage choices had distressed his parents. He therefore married his cousin Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael, Isaac’s brother.

But Esau’s motivation here was to appease his parents. Not an evil desire, of course, but hardly the best reason for following commandments. Esau’s chief concern was not obedience to God or to overcome his base impulses, but to find a quick solution to return himself to the good graces of other people.

But then, that is most often the case with each of us. Most of us try to do good things to appease some worldly influence, and then get frustrated that we can’t keep up that game for long. If we want to change, to truly change, it has to be founded in something more real.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Revelation 3:19-20, Ezekiel 18:32

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

COMMENTARY

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten
The first and most important thing to understand when giving moral reproof is that it should only ever be an act of love. And the first and most important thing to understand when receiving moral reproof is that love can exist in a painful experience.
Everyone who has sought out God will know what it is to be chastened. Everyone who has become a true follower will have felt the reproof of their maker. When someone I know to be a genuine disciple of Christ has called me to repentance I have been greatly helped by the knowledge that they have sat in my seat, too, being called to repentance themselves.
For as the verse above says, there are none whom God loves that He has not chastened. And there are none that God does not love.

I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, wherefore turn yourselves, and live
I believe it is easy to take offense when called to repentance because we confuse the intentions behind it with the world’s use of reproof. The world criticizes those that are wrong in order to condemn them, to justify cutting them off, to argue that they should die socially, perhaps even literally!
But unlike the world, God takes no pleasure in death, or condemnation, or the loss of any child. He does not call us out on our sins to say “so you see, this is why I have no reason to love you.” If God is chastising us it only means that we are still within reach and He is trying to save us. True condemnation from God would not be words of fury, it would be silence.
If you feel moved to call out another on their follies, then you should pause to consider whether your own motivations are similarly pure. Are you driven by the worldly form of reproof or the divine call to repentance? Is your desire to make them feel your displeasure or to awaken them to God’s love? Are you doing this to rid yourself of their sins or to sow a brighter future? Are you trying to damn them or to save them? If it is the latter, then carry on as that same spirit guides you. If it is the former, then they are absolutely right to reject you and take offense.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- 2 Timothy 2:14, Matthew 22:38-39, Doctrine and Covenants 121:41

Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.

This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

COMMENTARY

Strive not about words to no profit
When you find yourself needing to express a moral conviction to someone else, what is your motivation behind doing that? To get them to change their behavior for your benefit? To get what you want from them? Because if so, then you are not testifying of truth, you are having an argument or a debate. And in some circles argument and debate might be fitting, such as in academia, but as this verse makes clear they are of no use when testifying of the truth. Ultimately, when we are trying to influence the religious perspective of another person it should never be motivated by a desire to receive something from them.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself
The motivation for expressing our moral convictions and exercising an influence over another person should only ever be one of love. Rather than asking them to change for our own benefit, we should be inviting them to change for their own benefit. We should be making our case because we care for them and truly believe that their lives will be happier with this piece of enlightenment.
Recall the example of Daniel that we just examined. He was petitioning the prince of the eunuchs to let him eat a diet that conformed to his religious convictions, but he only made any headway when he illustrated how this approach was also going to help the prince of the eunuchs get what he wanted as well. When those we teach can feel that we sincerely seek their own good, and are not just trying to mold the world to our own preferences, they are far more likely to care about what we say.

Influence ought to be maintained only by love unfeigned
But remember that our display of care and concern for the person we speak with must be “unfeigned.” We must not pretend to care for someone just to coerce them into doing what we want. The account of Daniel also made clear that the compassion between him and the guards was sincere.
So do change those around you, but only do it because you sincerely love them and just want to help them.

Discussing Spiritual Differences- Missionary Work

Ten years ago I served a mission, seeking to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to any who would hear. Some people were genuinely relieved to have us turn up on their doorstep. Some of them were disinterested, but turned us away kindly. Some of them quickly shut off the television and pretended that no one was home. Some, however, felt deeply offended that we had come calling at their house, and before we could say a thing shouted at us until we left.

And, to be fair, I get why people don’t like to talk to missionaries. First there is the matter of repetition. Many religious sects will frequently change the missionaries that they have in an area. Thus you can tell the first set “no, thank you,” but then a next pair arrives and they don’t know that you’ve already expressed your disinterest. You keep having to say “no, thank you” over and over, and eventually the “thank you” gets replaced with stronger verbiage.

Another reason is that some missionaries are simply insufferable. Obviously every one of them should be driven by a genuine love for those they teach. Their great, motivating desire should be to help all people however they can. But I have been a missionary, and I can attest that this is not true for all of them. Many of them truly do have sincere and good intentions, but there are also those that you can practically feel the holier-than-thou dripping off of.

And the last reason that comes to mind is that each of us have areas of life that we know we can improve on. We feel guilty, but many of us are in denial of that guilt. In this case even a heartfelt, loving invitation to a better life might feel like a judgment of how sinful we are right now. A salesman might come and point out dirt on our house and try to sell us a cleaning solution. We might be disinterested in the product, but not offended. But a missionary reminding us of the dirt in our soul? That is a much more touchy matter.

Thus I see work to be done on both sides so that proselyting efforts can be given with care and can be received with the same spirit by which it was given. In a perfect world missionaries would all establish a caring relationship first, then seek to share their light as a friend instead of a stranger. And in a perfect world each of us would be honest to ourselves about our own guilt and would be open to those who can help us become the sons and daughters we were born to be.

Influence and Persuasion- Alma 20:20-22, 23; 22:5, 15

And he stretched forth his hand to slay Ammon. But Ammon withstood his blows, and also smote his arm that he could not use it.
Now when the king saw that Ammon could slay him, he began to plead with Ammon that he would spare his life.
Now the king, fearing he should lose his life, said: If thou wilt spare me I will grant unto thee whatsoever thou wilt ask, even to half of the kingdom.

Now the king said unto them: What is this that ye have said concerning the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, this is the thing which doth trouble me.
And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.

COMMENTARY

Now the king, fearing he should lose his life, said: If thou wilt spare me I will grant unto thee half of the kingdom
My wife pointed out to me how a story in the Book of Mormon applies very well to this topic of study. In it, a king is hostile towards a missionary and tries to kill him. But when the missionary gains the upper hand and the king sees that his own life is in danger, he immediately tries to bargain. As we see in this verse, he is motivated by that fear to give up an entire half of his kingdom, which would make his assailant as powerful as he is. Fear is a powerful way to pressure people into doing things.

And after Aaron had expounded these things the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life? I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
Of course the missionary does not kill the king, which catches the king by surprise. Later, when the king meets the brother of that missionary, he requests to be taught. For the first time the king hears the gospel message, and at this point he is filled with hope, not fear. Now he makes another offer, this time for his entire kingdom, which would leave himself powerless, if only he can have the goodness that his heart desires.
This story is a wonderful example of how fear is a powerful motivation, but hope is even greater. People that are inspired by hope will always be able to do more than those who are driven by fear.

The Doing Muscle- Question

For this study I wanted to take a broader topic, one that I expect will take me to a plethora of different scriptures and examples. The motivation for this particular topic stems from a conversation I had recently, where I spoke about how scripture study agitates my conscience into wanting to be better, and how I still struggle to meet that desire.

With this study, then, I want to examine how one develops the power of actually doing. How does one take the knowledge in their mind, the desire in their heart, and turn these into the actions that they actually do? For it is abundantly clear to me that having knowledge is the first step to changing oneself, yet one can have a sound understanding of right behavior but not live a single piece of it.

I would be curious in the meantime to hear how you have faced this challenge in your own life. What do you do when you know what is right, but you just feel no motivation to do it? Have you ever attained your goals of self-development, but then struggled to extend yourself to new ones? Are there any core principles that you cultivated in your heart first, and from that found other practices naturally falling into line?